Europe give US six of the best as sun comes out for Monty's men

Westwood and Donald lead the stunning charge as hosts take the final session by storm to fuel hopes of regaining the trophy
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The Independent Online

The forecast is promising; for Europe and Celtic Manor. After an 11-hour golfing day filled with the sun which Wales had always dreamt would shine on the biggest event of its history, a picture of the Ryder Cup at last began to emerge from all that mud. And for Europe it remains one replete with possibility.

The last few hours transformed a bleak scene for Colin Montgomerie. Going into the third session of the newly-formatted match, his side were 6-4 down. In fact, on the scoreboard, at least, they still are; but the state of the live matchestells a different story. Europe are up in all six matches (four fourballs and two foursomes) and performing like a team inspired.

Leading the way are Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. After nine holes of their foursomes they are four up. That would be an overwhelming scoreline against anyone – but Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker ? The world Nos 1 and 4 had won their previous six matches as a pair, having gone four out of four at the Presidents Cup and then two out of two here. The word was Woods had finally found a partner with whom he is compatible. But Westwood, in particular, looks determined to play the role of the Celtic Manor fire hydrant – and so bring the illusion crashing to a halt.

Of course, Woods and Stricker could come back, just as all the American duos could. Things go from bad to brilliant and back to brilliant again so quickly in the Ryder Cup; and not just the weather. The fact is that Corey Pavin's side are 6-4 to the good with their first away win in 17 years tantalisingly in focus. Europe are facing a game of catch-up on what we can only pray will be a Sunday marathon.

If only there was just the American clubhouse lead to worry about. Yesterday, the 45,000 fans filled their Wellingtons with prime golfing viewing, but did so in the knowledge that the wet stuff was due to revisit the drying valley today. Bands of rain, all too depressingly familiar to the torrents of Friday, are set to endanger this three-day match. There is no, or at the best little, room for manoeuvre in today's schedule. As depressing as it is to report, the first Monday finish in 83-years of the traditional dust-up still beckons.

But that's the pessimistic outlook and for the blue and gold faithful there must now only be positive vibes. The format rejig (with four sessions instead of five) means there is a rather false picture of the home heroes going into the final day behind. Not even half of the matches have been played, we are basically still on the Saturday morning. The opening skirmishes here early today will be pivotal as Montgomerie indicated. "We must get into the singles 8-8 minimum," he said.

The day had started at 7.45am with Friday morning's fourballs to conclude. Rory McIlroy yanked up the volume with a 25-foot putt on the 17th to haul back Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar to all square. When the ball fell, McIlroy ran around the green like a man demented. So much for him stating that he would rather win a World Golf Championship event. If he celebrates more strenuously in the next WGC at Shanghai next month the People's Army will be called.

As it was that euphoria proved to be rather misleading for the young rookie. He plonked his ball in the water on the 18th and he and Graeme McDowell had to be satisfied with a half. Then, in the ensuing foursomes, he saw his ball spin back into the bunker on the last. That was the gruesome conclusion of a meltdown by him and his fellow Irishman. With three to go they were one-up, but lost. It all came down to a classic match-play scenario on the 17th.

Here was the momentum-turner. Cink was 25ft away, McIlroy only the six feet after a thrilling McDowell tee shot. Cink holed, Rory missed and, yes, whatever they say, the two incidents were connected. McIlroy and McDowell courageously dusted themselves down in the 30 minutes allowed between games to forge a three-hole lead over Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan after seven holes of their third-session foursomes. Just like another Irishman, their fortunes had apparently flip-flopped.

Padraig Harrington was dreadful in his opening fourball with Luke Donald, the pair succumbing 3&2 to the inspired USA rookies, Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson. Somehow he re-found his game in the short break and he and Ross Fisher accounted for the misfiring Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson 3&2. It was a thrilling turnaround that must have left both captains even more baffled.

This showdown, and more pertinently their roles in it, is not as either of them could ever have imagined. There were no decisions to make about dropping players and as Montgomerie said: "All I could do is put on the motivational tapes." Of course, there are still other facets of captaincy– not least Montgomerie's decision late on Friday to bring Jose Maria Olazabal into the team room to help out with the added games in action – and unless the scoreboard of the live games is misleading the Scot's pairings have been inspired. To split up Westwood and Martin Kaymer was particularly cute after the world Nos 3 and 6 had won and halved their first two games.

Westwood had looked sick as the proverbial when a camera clicked on his backswing as he was putting to win the foursomes against Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler. "Thanks Mr Photographer, thanks a lot," shouted his caddie Billy Foster. In truth, Westwood and Foster have been around long enough to know that distractions abound at the Ryder Cup. Earlier, Fowler, the 21-year-old debutant, had played the wrong ball.

If the conditions do relent today there will be plenty more of that on what would certainly be one of the most intriguing of Ryder Cup days. When they went to their beds last night, both teams would have been convinced by their captains that it was their trophy to lose. The Friday deluge may well have ripped up the schedule and forced the organisers into an unpalatable format change, but it seems nothing can dilute the drama of a Ryder Cup. Not even two inches of rain. Wales finally felt able to take a deep breath and sing "Ole, Ole, Ole". A blessed change from "Brolly, Brolly, Brolly".

Yesterday's play

Session 1: Fourballs:

Result Europe 1.5, USA 2.5

Match 1 L Westwood & M Kaymer (Eur) bt P Mickelson & D Johnson 3&2

Match 2 R McIlroy & G McDowell (Eur) halved with S Cink & M Kuchar

Match 3 I Poulter & R Fisher (Eur) lost to S Stricker & T Woods 2 down

Match 4 L Donald & P Harrington (Eur) lost to B Watson & J Overton 3&2

Session 2: Foursomes:

Result Europe 2.5, USA 3.5

Match 5 E Molinari & F Molinari (Eur) lost to Z Johnson & H Mahan 2 down

Match 6 L Westwood & M Kaymer (Eur) halved with J Furyk & R Fowler

Match 7 P Harrington & R Fisher (Eur) bt P Mickelson & D Johnson 3&2

Match 8 MA Jimenez & P Hanson (Eur) lost to T Woods & S Stricker 4&3

Match 9 I Poulter & L Donald (Eur) bt B Watson & J Overton 2&1

Match 10 G McDowell & R McIlroy (Eur) lost to S Cink & M Kuchar 1 down

Session 3: Foursomes:

Match 11 L Donald & L Westwood (Eur) are 4 up against S Stricker & T Woods after 9 holes

Match 12 G McDowell & R McIlroy (Eur) are 3 up against Z Johnson & H Mahan after 7 holes


Match 13 P Harrington & R Fisher (Eur) are 1 up against J Furyk & D Johnson after 8 holes

Match 14 P Hanson & MA Jimenez (Eur) are 2 up against B Watson & J Overton after 6 holes

Match 15 E Molinari & F Molinari (Eur) are 1 up against S Cink & M Kuchar after 5 holes

Match 16 I Poulter & M Kaymer (Eur) are 2 up against P Mickelson & R Fowler after 4 holes

Overall score Europe 4, USA 6